The Romance of a Canebrake

A canebrake loomed large in my imagination as a kid. In the books I read, my forbearers would hack their way through canebrakes for days, endure snakes, elusive and hostile Indians, finally emerging into a river valley of rich and rolling pastures, where they would settle. Images of heroic Scotch-Irish explorers, pioneers and dashing pirates peopled all kid’s literature in those increasingly remote days (of my childhood).

I’d head off as a kid to the Barbe Property, a wild wood and swamp at the end of Holly Hill Rd., with my machete, and hack my way through the undergrowth. Since my machete was a wooden stick I really just sort of mashed my way through the undergrowth. Only to emerge out on the bayou staring at petrochemical plants across the ship channel. But, as a kid, I was never disappointed. There was mystery here, layers of history and days to explore.

Those woods were rich with romance and history. Contraband Bayou, where Jean Lafitte roamed and reportedly buried his treasure, served as a border to the east and north. One summer we discovered a rotting hulk of a shrimp boat and whiled away a week or two navigating it over the Spanish Main in pursuit of loot and captives.

The ability to create play and not have it manufactured and its loss must have an impact on our culture. Perhaps it is to the good, shove a game-boy in their hands, teach them to find entertainment only in what you provide and you produce a new generation of compliant consumer citizens. But, I digress.

Mr. Kyle and I stood in the remains of an old canebrake off of Johnson Valley (around the corner from Possum Trot). It measured thirty yards across wedged up against a creek. As we cut beanpoles for our gardens a history of sorts was in the air. Here, my English friend Phil and his wife, Malley had helped me cut beanpoles three years ago during their visit. Cindy and I had joined Mr. Kyle six years ago cutting poles in this stand that continually replenished itself. Mr. Kyle had cut beanpoles here for 60 plus years and residents of the valley had been cutting from this patch for the past two hundred years.

We had driven down Johnson Valley and turned into a drive. Asking the permission of the owner before driving down an access lane along the creek bottom. Mr. Kyle had lived in the house on the property with his family from 1941-47. He named off the dozen or so families that had owned that small farm over the years as we bumped along the lane.
We cut down our poles tied them together, left my images of pioneers and pirates there among the cane, and headed back to the farm.

Today the Barbe Property has been cleared and turned into a super Wal-Mart or a Target, a housing development, and a casino. And, I have to wonder, do kid’s still see Lafitte’s lanterns swing in the fog as his treasure is buried? I hope so.

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